Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lets See How They Roll

End of the year party tonight. All I know is that I better make use of the money I'm paying. I won't drink because I need to come home and tie up any loose ends before leaving. But it's for the best. Why do Japanese parties have to be so expensive though? It makes me not want to go. I'm sure it will be fun because everyone changes with a little alcohol flushing through the veins. I'll exploit this angle in whatever way possible.

While I was picking somethings up today after school I came across an intriguing drink. I had known about this for a few months already but had not seen it in person. Feast your eyes on this beauty.

Hot Cake Drink

Yes that's right. A warm pancake flavored beverage. If there is one thing Japan is good at it's coming up with ridiculous drinks to stock in vending machines. That is why I'm such a sucker for vending machines here. Back home I never let them tempt me. Different story here. Surprisingly this drink had a sublime taste. My only complaint is that I wish it was thicker. I want to feel like I'm drinking pancake batter mixed with maple syrup. Unfortunately the drink will never be like that. Now that I have consumed this absurd creation, no need to buy it again because I'll just make my own...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Down is Out

This past week was an oblivion of time and space. English days were held at two middle schools over a period of two days each. The goal is to encourage deeper English communication and practice. Maybe a dash of culture on the side or something. Who really knows how to teach culture though? I want to know who thought of there is nothing more American than apple pie. How does that make sense? Apples came from the middle east. All culture is fabricated anyway so if we are going to teach it we might as well just invent some new things to go along with it.

English days at the middle school were rather fun. We had an English village that simulated travel to an English speaking country. Students had to go through customs and change money at the bank. Then they had other tasks to complete in English. To prevent students from using Japanese we had a policeman that arrested students who spoke Japanese. They were detained and thrown in jail for a short time. I personally was the policeman for one class period. But the first year students were so timid and quiet I wasn't catching them. I had to resort to devilish tactics to land some poor souls in the prison. So at the restaurant where students could buy drinks I was doing kanpai (equivalent to cheers) to get students to speak Japanese. It's like clock work. When they hear it and see me raise my hand they can't prevent the words slipping from their lips. Seeing as everyone has become ADHD with the advent of internet, I'll just spare you the rest of the sundry details. However, one ALT was playing a cultural game of tag and bashed his head in on a desk. Got six stitches at the local hospital. Last year I heard he gashed his hand open on something and had to go to the hospital at another school.

I managed to make some cookies this week. Too much work in one night. I should have split the labor across two evenings but I needed to take the cookies to school the following day. The kids were happy and told me to open a cookie shop because they were so delicious. I'm sure that is is a lucrative business in these parts.

We worked on Saturday and had school half the day. The second half was disaster prevention education. The best mini lecture was the one about landslides. Really rad videos of mountain sides sliding off. The rest of the event was rather lackluster. The lunch was rice balls and some soup. All of it was bland. I suppose that is why the pickled vegetables are provided. I have developed a strong liking for those and gladly eat them when available.

I managed to pay for and receive my bus tickets today. I was a little unsure of where I was going but I ended up at the right place. I wonder if anyone is a sucker to pay a dollar to park at the station for under 20 minutes when they can just park at the drug store across the street. I'm sure there are tons. As you can see I don't fall into said category. On my way to a used goods store I came across a rug and carpet shop. It also sells snake or crocodile hand bags, maybe. Outside the store was a rack of random backpacks and bags on sale. What a stroke of luck to find a 10 dollar backpack that is bigger than the one I have. Exactly what I was hoping to find. It's big and high quality straight from China. Just what I like. This is probably as cheap as one will find in Japan. It's nothing special with one large inner section and an outside zipper section. Feels unbelievably cheap but it was cheap. Can't be beat.

I stopped in a men's ware shop to find a coat. They were all on sale and cheap. The only problem is that the large sizes make me feel like my arms are going to tear through the shoulders. XL sizes aren't massively huge but fit better. There none to be seen in the style I wanted so I moved to a used clothing store. The prices for coats here are all over the place. Mostly over priced but I stumbled upon a little gem. Most of the down coat-esque items are not actually made with down. Rather they probably have cotton and other synthetics that don't stay as warm. I found an awesome Carhartt down coat that fit perfectly. The down is slowly leaking out at various seems around the coat which I wasn't so sure about. Yet, the price was only about 18 dollars and it's super warm. I'm definitely lugging this to Nagano with me. Probably the best find of the day.

Two and half more days of school. Here I come Honshu.

Monday, December 13, 2010

You Surely Jest

As December marches onward with no stop, the days of shopping dwindle and people have less of a chance of getting the present they really wanted to give someone. There is an odd feeling I get from Christmas season in Japan. In some ways it's a part of home reaching out to me from the other side of the world. On the other hand I wonder how Christmas tradition was even perpetuated throughout Japan. Here in the valleys of the Shikoku mountains I still see Christmas lights on display. They are scattered about the hills and houses. Strung along roads and bridges in the most uncanny spots. It is a surreal feeling to realize that the holiday has been absorbed into Japanese society and people emulate the fundamental elements like perfect clones. Christmas in Japan has roughly only existed 50 or 60 years. How weird would it be to one day decide to adopt all the traditions and practices of the Chinese year and call it the American New Year. Flat out bizarre. Same kind of feeling I get with Christmas here.

The past week we had our mid year conference for teachers in the prefecture. Over a hundred of us inexperienced and lost souls descended to the prefectural education center to be enlightened and reflect on what we are doing. All I remember from now is that I made a chant about liking waffles or something. The rest has faded as quickly as it first came. It must have been a huge success for the lady organizing it, though, because she was moved to tears by our accomplishments over the three days at the conference. She lauded us for being the best prefecture in Japan as she tried to hide behind a tall Australian, choking back some tearful eyes. You can probably hear the awwwws coming out of the text as you read this. While not the most worthwhile event in my life it wouldn't be fair to say it was a waste of time either. I had some pleasant conversations about maggot therapy and MRSA infections. I never discount those worthwhile topics.

I made a pizza that was better than any before. Maybe it's the pan. Maybe it's the new scale. Who knows. It was good. I hope I can win the hearts of Yoko's family at the end of the month. If I don't they may never let me come back to Nagano.

Pizza In a Pan

The kind, well I should say odd, guy I befriended who works at the local sightseeing bureau invited me to an event on Sunday. Such events are small and local so I wouldn't know about them otherwise. That is unless I read the sightseeing webpage which lists such things but I can't be forced to read that consistently. Plus, if I were to show up to this kind of event by myself everyone would be telling me how to get back home because I would surely be lost. I showed up and stood around for several minutes looking like I had been born a black sheep. I was then rescued by some charismatic woman that called out my name. She is the co-worker of the guy that invited me and they had been waiting for me to show up. Needless to say I was thankful to be pulled into the hands of someone with vague relation. What unfolded was an onslaught of jokes and misdirection in the most Japanese of ways. From telling lies about girlfriends and age to poking fun of losing money in an Australian casino, the field was abundant with banter and playful talk. Most of this was directed by that lady I had met. Probably one of the most playful and bold Japanese women I have met. When I say playful I mean someone who can make jokes and be sarcastic. This tends to be a rarity in Japan methinks. It increasingly came to my attention that her awareness of English vocabulary was especially fine tuned. To amuse myself I began to use random English words to test her acuity. Much to my surprise her comprehension level was impressive. There is no telling where she picked it up but she swore she was terrible at English. That's fine. Sometimes Japanese women who speak English are just out to capture a foreigner and lock them in a chicken coop in a remote mountain valley. As long as she swears the opposite I feel mildly safe. I'll keep an eye open.

No pictures because my hands were full of food or dirty. It's about time you had an imagination exercise anyway.

A plethora of other random things transpired but catch me later for those. I do have one word of wisdom. If they tell you not to cut yourself while stripping grass for paper making, don't cut yourself because you get blood over the grass and everyone hates you. Well I'll maintain it was the knife that moved and not me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In the City

I had been waiting since August to rid myself of the decrepit pieces of carpet that were left festering in my spare room. It seemed like December would never arrive back at that time because December meant big trash day. This is the day everyone unload what they have been hording for the past 6 months and couldn't get rid of sooner. I went down to the drop off point on Saturday quite happy knowing I no longer would be the keeper of the carpets. When I arrived nobody had left any trash. I thought that maybe they picked up what people had already left. I sat for several minutes wondering what the best course of action was. I could leave my stuff and run the risk of doing things completely wrong or gamble and come back the following day hoping I could get rid of my junk. I opted for the latter because I didn't want to be the fool who didn't know garbage day rules. Sure enough if paid off and on Sunday I disposed of the carpet and futons that made me cringe. The best part is the awesome leather chair I scored out of the junk. I almost took a small piano but the risk of it not working was too high for the size. I know have a great chair for my living room. I'm already looking forward to the next trash day in six months.

On Saturday after not being able to drop of my garbage I headed down towards the city to meet some people for a creativity fest. An ALT had a smorgasbord of craft supplies and other crafty inherent items available to making anything the heart desired. Unfortunately as I showed up the five people there were just getting ready to go into Kochi City. They tried to contact me but seeing as I'm without a cellphone, no dice. It worked out for the best and after some flow charts and calculation on who had to ride with who, we descended into the city. George rode with me in my car and we covered many a topics ranging from guitar and electronic music to the speed of technology spiraling us out of control. It worked out for the best because he ended up graciously giving me some new strings for my guitar after we stopped at his place. I broke mine this past week and had been looking to get new ones. I actually have met George before back in August but this was the first time meeting since then.

Everyone ended up at Hirome the local drinking hole. We have a midyear conference for all ALTs this week and a former ALT from Kochi who now works for the program in Tokyo is speaking. It also happened to be his birthday so a handful of individuals were celebrating. He is into all sorts of hiking and is a trove of information on some regions in the Japanese Alps. I refrained from drinking any alcohol because I had to drive home. This is despite the fact George offered me his place to crash if I wanted to have a beer. I felt a cold coming on in my throat so the appeal of having even a sip of alcohol was zero. The massive amounts of second hand smoke didn't give me much help either. I had great conversation with many a people. Somehow I ended up singing Disney songs and talking about ocean currents on the southern side of Kochi. We maxed out our time at Hirome which closes at 11:00pm. Several of us hauled our bodies to a bar called stylish. Supposedly it is reputed as the foreigner bar but it's more likely people go their because drinks are cheap. I wasn't drinking so I couldn't care much anyway.

After having many a delightful yelling conversations over the DJ playing music, the people we were with slowly drifted away into the night and peaceful slumbers. I stayed on longer with George and another guy and his girlfriend. Some other foreigners had been in the bar earlier and made a grand re-entrance back in at about 2am. One guy went to the dance floor with his sweatshirt tied around his waste. Okay wait a second. What era are we in and who in their right mind ties a sweatshirt around their waste while dancing? Leave it on the chair for crying out loud. Another guy was trying way too hard to talk to a table of Japanese girls. They just would not give him the time of day. At some point he pointed over to our sublime location and George declared something in this paraphrased nature, "Well that's it! We have to show this tool shed up." In George's questionable humor and my coherent state we boldly marched over to the girls and said hello. It's as if our inexplicable charm and character instantly pulled the girls towards us like magnets. In a matter of seconds we were playing card games and learning the names of the girls who that lame guy had exhausted himself over. Unfortunately as George tried to explain an American card game in his fuzzy state the cheetah hat girl relinquished her smile into eyes that were filled with unspeakable horror. Had this girl been too friendly to George and regretted it? We may never know. I had a great thing going with black hat girl and I could have sworn she was going to hand her number over to me with the way she was talking. I caught her looking at me from across the room earlier and tried to hide when I saw her. Alas, as they departed we were back to just George and I. I grasped at the opportunity to see them again as I ran outside to ask for a phone number. Such things I have hardly ever done in my life, let alone to Japanese girls. But the only response that came was we will meet you again at this place which in other words means more like never.

Marching back from the bar listening to the great color of George's conversation and his raving about smoke flavored string cheese, the night was getting ready to greet the morning once again. If there is anything we learned from this night it is that when you don't have a cell phone you can never make excuses for not purchasing something when you have that extra 3000 yen a month.

And so the Saturday and Sunday gone by, another weekend ended in Kochi.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Onslaught of December

The first day of December coincided with an elementary school visit that I didn't feel prepared for. I would say it wasn't my best showing. The reason for that is the 12 Days of Christmas song that I tried to have the students sing. Naturally I didn't expect them to sing the whole thing because it's a little fast. I should have let them listen to it once first and then tried doing some signing a second time through. I hate that feeling you get when you know whatever you planned out is going down hill faster than you can save it. I have another elementary school tomorrow so I have a chance to redeem myself. I'm going to only do the song with the older students. The young ones get the construct a gingerbread house lesson. They only need to color and cut things out which saves me from trying to teach them to sing with English approximated pronunciation.

Today was a lot better as I had the opportunity to go to a kindergarten and hang out with the kids all morning through the early afternoon. The main reason they asked me to come was because they were making mochi. Mochi is rice that has been hammered in a stone bowl with a giant mallet. It becomes very stretch and chewy. This is then eaten plain with some side toppings or bean paste is put inside. The mochi making was somewhat peripheral to all the funny and cute kids though. The other ALT a half hour north of me said something along the lines of wanting to steal a Japanese kid for himself. It's a known fact that little Japanese kids melt your frontal lobe, causing you to do things against your own will. I arrived at the kindergarten at about 9am and was sent to one of the classrooms. I'm not sure if they stuck me with the only male teacher on purpose or if it was at random. He is a really nice guy and actually lives here in my village somewhere. I often wonder how any of the teachers at the kindergarten I went to keep their sanity. It is a mad house of noise, screaming, yelling, laughing, and a billion other random things going on at once. Students have a lot of general freedom when it comes to free time and they are not always supervised nor are they mandated to all do the same exact thing.

My day started with helping tie handkerchiefs and aprons on all the kids in the classroom. It takes awhile to get everyone tied up. However, I don't know if this getup was all that necessary. It is probably to subliminally reinforce domestication roles that the boys will more than likely never fulfill, save for their estranged wives who have to deal with their intoxicated stupor after work. That is reading far too deep into the use of handkerchiefs and aprons. Everyone had to grab their little chair and proceed outside to the playground area.


Pounding that mochi.


I wasn't kidding about the handkerchiefs and aprons was I?


I'm not sure if all the (I think they were moms) were sick or they were just being hygienic with the mochi serving.







Mouths were getting dirty big time. Some of these kids pounded 6 and 7 balls of mochi down their gullet. They all assured me that they would eat still eat lunch...


After making mochi everyone retreated back inside to change and get ready for play time. All the students were competing to get me to play with them. It was hard to keep them from getting angry at me. One kid almost had a breakdown. I did my best and played some card games that made no sense. I even played a pianca for the first time in my life. Piano that you blow into to make sound. I always wanted to try one so I jumped at the chance. These things are all over the Japanese school system. I'm planning to steal one when I get the chance.


After crawling through a block house filled with ghost pictures and pretending to be scared, we all headed outside for more play time. Too bad there weren't any big unicycles for me to ride. They would have LOVED to see me ride one.


And time to say goodbye after a day of fun and zero responsibility on my part.


Little Japanese kids are so incredibly difficult to understand. It makes for funny conversation because they think I'm either so stupid or just crazy. Generally speaking I could communicate just fine with the kids. It wouldn't be a problem if you didn't know Japanese it's just ten times more fun to say funny things to them in Japanese. These days leave me feeling happy that I have such opportunities. When else in my life am I going to play with Japanese kindergarten kids and make mochi. Probably never so I enjoy it for all it's worth.

Last but not least. They couldn't have the foreigner come and not mallet some mochi. Yours truly.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cooking and Eating Away My Time

It was tempting to go hiking early this morning but after being up till 2am I thought the better of it. My day was wasted away sitting under my kotatsu figuring out what to do. I was actually busy most of the afternoon cleaning my kitchen and preparing for my dinner. I decided to take another stab at the falafel burgers I made this past week. The main difference is that I substituted chickpeas for soy beans.

Falafel Burgers Round 2

The real winner, though, were the fresh flour tortillas that I used to wrap the burgers. Not overly difficult to make but some mild effort involved. I made the batch of them right before I cooked the burgers and kept them warm in the oven. Thicker than store bought ones but soft and a little chewy. Lightly blistered on both sides. This was my first time making tortillas and the result was wonderful. If I have the time I will be making these again. The biggest problem is that I can make 8 of these and eat them all. It's hard to resist things I make in the kitchen.

I also bought some salsa on Saturday which accompanied the sliced cabbage, tortillas, and burgers quite well. Not sure how I feel about the soy beans yet. I think I need to mash them more because I had too many whole pieces left.

I feel like the tortillas were the best part of my day. Now if I can just get a proper oven things will really heat up.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Society's Window

For Thanksgiving I made mashed potatoes and ate them with ketchup and salt. I felt sick afterwards. Potatoes a little too green maybe? It’s a good thing potatoes are a part of the deadly nightshade family because that might explain my feeling. Some type of acid builds up in old potatoes that are exposed to light for too long. This makes for some serious spud sickness when eaten. I think I just ate too much in general so no worries mom.

I haven’t had a full day of English class for what seems like a long time. It must be a blast for the middle school students who are forced to learn English against their will. It’s not like their wills are bent much by the expectations of the Japanese school system though. I’m not sure what the consequences are for students who get bad grades or ignore class work. It is too bad we never see the worth of foreign language learning until later in life or never at all. If English wasn’t the lingua franca then I wonder what the situation would be like in America. Would we be learning more languages or would we still be following the path of blissful ignorance American English speakers have come to expect?

The second year students are always a welcome change in my daily routine. I never know what to expect from them on any given day. Okay I take that back because I can expect them to ask me questions or teach me words that fall towards the vulgar/useless spectrum. When I think of being a middle school student this type of vocabulary just wasn’t floating around in my mind compared to some students. However, we all probably knew a good deal of vulgar, moronic, and profane words learned from our less innocent peers. I just never cared much. The second year students, a few and definitely not most, have a desire to teach me such vocabulary in Japanese. On the one hand I don’t want to know but then again its useful for navigating Japanese life when you run into people that want to play mean tricks on you by exacerbating what little vulgar vocabulary you know. I would never do this in English so I kind of loathe these types of people even if they are just kids.

Before we started the second year English class one of the girls said to me, “社会の窓 (shakai no mado).” Based on my knowledge of Japanese this sounds like she literally said ‘society’s window’. Seemed harmless enough but it surely had some meaning impossible to infer from the literal meaning. The English teacher took an oath of silence and moved on with the lesson for the day without saying what it was. Upon returning to my desk I looked up what this ‘society window’ means. Can’t say I’m surprised to find out it meant the zipper or fly on a pair of pants. Supposedly a first year student told her to say it to me. Not sure I believe that but whatever. During the lunch break I was upstairs talking to some second year students again. It’s dangerous to be alone with some of them in particular because they will revert into that category of people I said that I loathe. A couple other words I learned today were おっぱい(oppai) and 贅肉(zeiniku). Oppai is just a more colloquial way to say breasts and zeiniku means excess flab. Due to the fact of my muscular chest, which I find no reason to brag about mind you, the students were just trying to be facetious. Guess it’s good to have learned these words. Who knows when they will come in handy for a good laugh or two when I have some intoxicated Japanese people in my midst.

Goals for this weekend: get panty hose and balloons.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Falafel Burgers

Today we were off because of the school culture festival on Sunday. I made great use of this to sleep in and enjoy my warm blankets. I woke up to graphite lined clouds and periods of torrential rain. That basically canceled any plans to go into the mountains.

This left me a good opportunity to spend some time reading and researching. I recently have fallen into a pretty boring and mediocre dinner rut. I can't say I really mind though. I decided to look into some new recipes, meat free of course. I'm for all intents and purposes a dinner vegetarian you could say. If I'm not buying from the grocery store or I'm receiving food somewhere besides my home then I allow myself to partake of meat or fish. In the course of my search I found a delicious looking recipe for falafel burgers. It consists of chickpeas (garbanzo), onions, and a mixture of spices. This is then ground with some flour to form the patties.

In order to make some new dinners I desperately needed to fill my larder. It had been well over two weeks since I did a major shopping run. I didn't have anything to eat for breakfast and I skipped lunch in the process of going to the grocery store. The grocery store made me feel so hungry. I feel a little awkward pushing my cart around heaped full of food because people stare at me like I have broken rule 439 of the Japanese social code for super market shopping. But I stay away from cup noodles, frozen foods, most snacks, and other things I don't need. My cart is usually full of healthy and nutritious food so at least I don't look like a glutton so to speak.

It was close to 6pm by the time I got back. I threw all my ingredients together and fired up my stove. Took about three minutes to fry each side of the burgers. I then toasted some bread and put slices of Chinese cabbage on top. On the top of the cabbage went the patties followed by some tomato sauce that I found in my cupboard. I wish I had some salsa because that would probably be wonderful as well. I'll find some later.

Chickpea Burgers

These were so tasty and it was nice to eat something a bit different for a change. I'm going to make some fresh pitas in the next week to substitute for the bread. I might try to use soy beans instead of the chickpeas depending on what I can get more of for cheaper. I think the flavor would still be great. That is probably the only new thing I'll get around to making this week but hopefully this will make me try new things more and more.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Music Convention

There was a local elementary and middle school music convention today. Schools from this 'county' gathered at one elementary school to show off their singing and instrument playing abilities. I'm not sure if this was for entertainment, competition, or none of the above. The host school, I believe, really put everyone to shame by performing first. It was a brass band with percussion. Think marching band without woodwinds. These kids were anywhere from 1st grade to 6th grade and they meant business when they played. It was by the far the most practiced and professional performance of the day. None of the other schools matched anything close to this. The rest was a hit or miss smattering of performances with off key singing and painful out of beat percussion miss hits. But that is how it is supposed to be. The elementary schools all did a singing song and then played a song with instruments. You get piano, harmonica pianos, xylophones, recorders, and other percussion for your listening pleasure. I think it's a miracle that the students didn't completely fail in this process. That is some testament to the teachers who prepared them.

One of the elementary schools I visit played 'Tequila' which was probably my favorite of the day. It was even complete with the little kids screaming tequila at the appropriate times of the song. Ah the blissful innocence of not knowing you are screaming out the name of hard liquor. I assume nobody thought the better of it either. Same thing goes for the elementary girls and their short shorts and super miniskirts. Other than that the other most memorable part of the event is how uncomfortable it was sitting on a gym floor for several hours. I did forget the cacophonous bus ride back where some of the girls were singing songs. One of those girls just wouldn't give it up and her singing was painful enough to make your head feel like it had survived 20 consecutive inversions.

After we returned to school and had lunch, everyone was running around getting ready for the school festival this weekend. This left me with nothing to do but sit around and occupy myself. I asked if there was anything to do and the response was no. My day took a turn for the worse from this point on. I knew I was supposed to do a rehearsal with the students for the song I was playing guitar on. I thought for sure someone would tell me where to go and when or at least remind me. Well it goes past 4pm and I'm starting to wonder whether I missed something or it was just later. About a few minutes past the top of the hour the music teacher comes back from the gym which is across the main ground of the school. I don't even remember most of what she said but she told me how I had missed rehearsal. This didn't come across in a very positive or gracious tone because it wasn't. All I could say was that nobody had told me and I thought it was at 4pm. She countered with telling me that it was my job to remember to go and that I didn't do that so I wouldn't be performing with the students. I said sorry and that I understood. Not much else to say to something like this. This put me in a pretty sour mood because of how I was treated. On Monday I was told there was a rehearsal on Friday but I didn't interpret that it was my sole responsibility to know when and where to go. I thought someone would remind me. I saw the music teacher at the music convention and she didn't say anything. None of the students said anything to me. While she didn't erupt like a volcano or anything, her dissatisfaction was easily felt. I think she could have been a little more understanding so that is what bothered me the most.

I wrote an angry sloppy piece of prose about all my contempt and frustration which was actually the backside of the music I was supposed to play. Before I left school, however, the music teacher came back over and boldly told me she had thought for awhile. Well what was it that she thought of? She asked me if it would still be possible for me to play. I bet she regretted what she had said to me. I would have felt that way if I was her. So after flat out telling me that I couldn't play she came back to offer me another chance. I sat there for a few seconds fumbling over my thoughts like oil coated noodles. I said, "I don't know" to which she replied she was afraid if that was my feeling that I couldn't play. That ended that. I'm left to wonder if that was the best decision. Yes it's true that I probably was a tad spiteful but after already telling me I couldn't play I didn't feel welcome to do so. Part of it is just the principle of the fact. I'm not going to shamefully take the second chance in this instance. It's rife with complications. Ever since she asked me to play with the students and I then said yes, she has been weird. I felt flat out depressed and sad about the whole thing today. I don't like being treated like that. I could care less about playing the guitar. So it's over and done with now.

On to tomorrow and better things....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Just Economical

Japanese ATMs might be inconvenient in terms of operating hours but they sure do plenty of wonderful things. I can't say I've used their plentiful features very much. It's good to know they exist for when I require them though. I have two bank accounts right now because my car insurance is setup through another bank. The monthly cost is automatically deducted like all my other monthly bills except gas. I don't live anywhere close to this bank branch but there is an ATM right out front of the grocery store in my village for this bank. Best part is that I can deposit money straight into this account with cash. The little door pops open and you drop the bills inside. Instantly added. Many ATMs even have features where you can dump your coins in as well. If that wasn't nice enough you can send wire transfers and do most general banking tasks with an ATM. Too bad my main bank doesn't have an ATM located in my village. There is a tiny branch office where I do withdrawals manually with paper forms. I like walking in and talking to the people as I write out my information. The operating hours are terrible so I can only go on Wednesday afternoon when I don't have to work. It makes me be more careful with my money.

Now that you have been bored to death about banking. I have a few other comments.

I received my shutter release cable for my camera today. I'm really looking forward to playing around with this. When I looked at my camera manual (yes I actually read it quite often) I thought such a device was silly to purchase. It now makes more sense why you might want one. We shall see how pictures turn out eventually.

A cassette adapter, for playing an audio device in the car, also came in the package. I crossed my fingers on this purchase hoping for something that wasn't the worst in Chinese consumer electronics quality. I ran out to the car to have a test run with it and the first thing I hear is this harsh sound of grinding plastic and clicking. I tried to talk myself down after almost flying into a fit of mental rage by rationalizing I can just play the music louder and not notice. NO, this terrible noise was not going to disappear so I decided to investigate the inside of the adapter. When I popped it open I was greeted with the most useless product design I have ever seen. I should have taken a picture of this before I put it back together because it is so ludicrous anyone would do such a thing. There was a set of about 3 or 4 plastic gears that served absolutely no purpose other than to make noise and probably convince you to try buying another adapter. One of the gears was so loose that it was just clanking and banging around the inside of the cassette. I thought cheap Chinese knock offs were supposed to use the most minimal amount of parts. I'm so disappointed. Anyway, after removing some parts the adapter was much more quiet and did it's job appropriately. I felt much better psychologically knowing I didn't waste my money.

Now I can finally listen to something other than same 2 CDs that have been in my car for 2 months. Yoko gave me a CD before she went back to Japan and I brought it with me when I moved here. I didn't like it the first time I listened but when I was forced to listen without any other options, I came to like almost every song on it. Funny how that works, right?

Can't say I will miss the scarcity. Good riddance.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Little Tripod

I received my new tripod last night. It is interesting that delivery services in Japan will come to your house at 6PM on a Sunday evening. In many circumstances Sunday is just another opportunity to work so maybe there isn't another choice. There is this creepy decrepit old lady delivery person that works around here. She wreaks of cigarettes and the years have not been kind to her saggy face. I'm not sure what company she is associated with but she lives somewhere around here because a couple weeks ago she invited me to come play volleyball. She told me there weren't many my age playing so it might be kind of weird for me. She is 74 years old herself. I'm wondering what the average age adds up to. My tripod was delivered by another company though so I didn't see this lady last night.

The Little One

I opted for a much smaller and compact model than I had originally planned. I wanted to be able to stick this tripod in my backpack so I wouldn't have to carry it in a separate bag. It is somewhere around 15 inches tall but it can extend to over 4 feet. The tripod is made of lightweight aluminum and plastic. This is perfect for going anywhere whether it is hiking or into the city. I love the fact I can stow it away without it being obvious I'm carrying it. The adjustable head even has a little bubble level on it. I figured it would be a little cheap feeling in some aspects but overall I'm very pleased. It was about time I upgraded from my sweatshirt and camera bag tripod combo I had been using.

Kochi Down Town

To cap things off, here is a shot of the main road through 高知市. There is the two track tram line in the center flanked by multiple lanes of cars on either side. The tram runs all the way to Ino so if I wanted I could catch a ride from there into the city. However, it's probably cheaper to just drive into the city and park than ride any train. The city was especially oppressive and terrible looking against the soulless gray sky. That is why I didn't take much else than this. Japanese cities are some of the most lifeless and dull places around in terms of architecture. Sometimes there are older homes and shops off on side roads that have a bit more character. In fact there is this odd apartment in the city that is the antithesis to boring. It has multiple levels, stairs, housing units, and shops. I'll give you a tour when I get some pictures.

Time for bed.

Thanks for the advice mom. I don't know if it will make me buy anything though, haha.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dropping Before Even Shopping

Some hate how the days get shorter this time of year but I like how everything falls into solace much earlier. People scurry back into their homes and wait for morning to descend once again.

I had to prepare some activities for the first and second year students on Friday. The problem was that my teacher told the first year kids we were playing a game when in fact I did not make a game. They weren't the slightest bit happy about this development. I don't even know if the teacher was pleased. I created a dialogue with blanks they had to fill in with the intention of the students performing it after they finished. I used several words the students know so that didn't help my cause but I wanted to make a conversation that wasn't so bland and dry as the textbook. Whoever wrote that book probably drank a couple liters of cheap sake, ate some alphabet soup, threw it up on the sidewalk, and then scraped it up to create the book. In the end the students actually behaved fairly well and tried to complete the worksheet which was surprising given their track record. I was worried they wouldn't even touch it. I'm very curious to see them act their dialogues out. They will probably do this with more heart than the worksheets they love so much.

The teacher up north of me was gracious to invite me to go shopping in the city on Saturday. I almost declined because I wanted to go hiking. However, the weather looked to be unimpressive. It ended up being a cloudy and gloomy day which would have left me feeling depressed had I spent the day hiking. We picked up another teacher in the city and she came shopping with us. I wanted to get at least one other piece of warm clothing so that is the main reason I decided to go. I've been telling my coworkers how I only have one sweatshirt that is basically my entire winter wardrobe. Their responses are mostly of bewilderment and then they offer advice where I should purchase warm clothes. I bought a black hooded sweatshirt and called it at that. I couldn't bring myself to buy or spend any more money on clothes no matter how hard I tried. My wallet told me that I should see how far I can get with just this extra sweatshirt.

We spent the better half of the day wandering around looking at shops. My mind spent the better half of the day in a blender of foam and fluff. Shopping and I don't get along so well on a psychological level and this was confounded by the visual stimulation of bizarre Japanese fashion and human consumerism. I loathe watching masses of people buy things and shop. There are lots of interesting people to look at though. It seems that there is a current fashion trend where girls clip faux raccoon or fox tails on their purses. Really? Yes really. It might not be that widespread but I like to think it is. Young Japanese girls, elementary school age, sometimes wear rather inappropriate clothing. This is mostly in the vein of miniskirts that are too short. It is unsettling that parents allow this to happen. It is so untasteful. The last thing society needs to be doing is reinforcing the sexualization of young women from such an early age. I see nothing good coming out of that. There isn't much to mediate this problem but maybe nobody sees it as one. This is all the better for businesses who will prey upon girls as they grow up and exploit their need to look pretty and be better than everyone else. It is okay for a girl to be modest because her true beauty will shine through that if given the chance. Unfortunately everything in the world says the opposite. Nothing new.

My latest pizza creation made me aware of two things. I won't trust Japanese mozzarella cheese until I taste it and I'm going to have to cook my pizza for an hour in the ridiculous microwave convection oven I have. Pizza was decent but way undercooked in the crust. I better get things squared away before I have to make one for Yoko's family. I think they have an oven though so I'm good there. I'm going to start my pizza blog back up soon seeing as I've been making more pizzas lately. I like charting success and failure. It is enjoyable to see where I've come from. However, I don't even know if I've really come that far. It might just be the limitations I'm working with that don't give me the results I'm used to.

Today, Sunday, I worked at the local maple leaf festival. It takes place up in the hills at a local park. There is a wide open amphitheater type place with a stage. I told my supervisor a month ago I would work at the event because I was probably going to attend anyway. The benefit is that I can take a day off at another time in exchange for "working". I was assigned to help carry taiko drums for the ensemble that was performing. My job was a complete farce because there were so many people already around to help. I didn't touch the drums. Another ALT was supposed to be there but he was sick. I don't prefer working at these events because it is hard to talk to people. Nobody told me what i should be doing either. On the upside of things, I've been following a local blog a guy writes about the area I live in and places to visit. He found me today and introduced himself. Seems like a pretty solid guy. Not too much older than me which is a blessing in these parts. He works for the Ino town office making sightseeing maps and such. He said we should go hiking together sometime. He only lives about 5 or 6km down the road from me as well. I hope we can meet up sometime and hang out. I said I made pizza last night and he immediately said we should have a pizza party. Hah well my pizza isn't ready for that unfortunately. I like the offer though so I'll try to work towards that. I was so glad when the festival ended. I just wanted to go home and sleep. Funny thing is that no matter how tired I am or how much I think about sleeping, whenever I get home I never take a nap or sleep.

I think that my writing is getting too lifey lifey. Might have to tone that down a bit. But I write more for those of you who read than myself. Therefore, I like to convey what life is like from that perspective. I can always drift back into snow storms of prose.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Went for a short little outing this afternoon. The Setogawa Valley is not very far from my place but like most scenic areas takes more than enough time to get to. I wasn't surprised to see people living in the area this time. I've almost come to expect people living in the most inconvenient and out of the way places. The funny thing is that if people truly want to be away from others they always end up huddling together with other houses that are usually only meters apart. Somewhat ironic isn't it?

The sun was behind the hills for the most part and the valley was cast in shadows. This is a terrible situation for photos. The more I go out to take pictures the more I realize that getting good pictures is one part luck and one part having great light. I gave in last night and bought a small tripod I can fit inside my backpack but extends to about 4 feet. I also got a wired remote control so I can do some long night exposures. I didn't get the wireless one because I will more than likely be behind the camera and the sensor for the wireless is on the front. I plan to head up into the mountains some evening and maybe do a 30 minute or hour exposure of the sky. I'm hoping to get some great star streaks with the mountains in the foreground.

Here are two pictures from today and I might add a few others later if they look all right. The first is just a regular non hdr exposure and the second is hdr. Enjoy.

Touch of Red and Yellow

Dull and Blue

Monday, November 8, 2010

Deep Inside

At first I only followed
Because I felt so hollow
Years of searching
Only to feel my own scowl


A glimpse of your feet
Convinced we must meet
I knew not who you were
There was only a yearn

Riding crescendos of sorrow
To and from tomorrow
Did you fill my billows
Like the frowning willows

From complacent states
To passionate rage
Every ounce of emotion
Pressed with each rotation


Fleeting laughter no one got
My feeling cast to rot
Grasping at your smile
I adjourned my own trial


Always a few steps ahead
Any closer I couldn't tread
My attention still fixed
But nothing more than tricked


Why did you stop for me?
Was it just a reprieve?
Kept in close reach
Disparity peaked


In every nook
I found your look
Even in the most remote
My mind was rote


Into the depth of my soul
These paths continued to roll
Did you exist somewhere?
Were you ever there?


Up you ascended
Never a word did you say
Each of my thoughts laid away
You are just a dream
That I never did see

Dragging Monday by my Heels

I don't think Thanksgiving really makes much sense to kids but my lessons went fine with the elementary kids today. I love how when I show up at the kindergarten the teacher never knows I'm coming. This has happened pretty much every time I've gone. I've only been three times total but still, it's kind of like "oh you showed up so whatever plans we had will be postponed." Feels a bit awkward. I don't get the feeling, however, that I'm unwanted so that is good at least.

I had one English class at the junior high in the afternoon. I never know what to expect from the kids. They are out of their minds. Doped up on hormones everyday. I try to help regulate the class but everyone compounds the problems ten fold. It is near impossible to keep everyone calm. Oh well such is life.

The main reason for this posting is to give you direct links to my most recent photo collections.

- School field trip

- Rygado Cave

- Kanpuzan Hike

Or if you don't like this option just go to my page and then go through each photo one by one. As usual these are what I thought were some of the better pictures. After I take lots of pictures I upload them to the computer and then go through once and delete the worthless shorts. I go through a second time and pick out more sub-par photos. By the time I upload them to flickr the majority of them are half decent which equates to what you end up seeing. It serves no purpose to upload several hundred photos of poor to fair quality for everyone to see. You can go to facebook for that.

Okay time to go write a poem or something. I've got inspiration.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kicking it With Koreans Top Side

I've been lazy to update for the past week because I didn't want to face the back log of pictures that continues to build. I am, however, a few steps closer to actually getting some new content up on my flickr page. I should really make the effort to stay on top of it because then I never feel like doing anything after the fact.

If you looked at the picture I posted from the other week of the chicken (scroll down if you didn't or go to the next page if it has been too long) it was indeed alive. Since you asked Alli I'm responding specifically for you. The tails on the roosters are so beautiful and long that they sit up on a tiny shelf and eat all day long. There isn't anywhere for them to move except their heads. Kind of sad when you think about it but when is the last you thought about where that chicken breast on your plate came from? You don't want to know is all I can say.

I hiked a mountain on Saturday. I almost used the word climb but that implies using my hands and creates confusion. Kanpuzan which means cold wind is one of the taller mountains in the area. The foliage is about past its prime up in the higher mountain sections but is still relatively pretty in the lower valleys. It was a nice sunny day with light clouds scattered about the sky. By the way I have a terrible track record for leaving specific camera equipment at home. Sometimes I forget my memory card, sometimes its an adapter, and on Saturday it was polarizing filter. The one day I finally get out hiking and the sun is fraying the slopes with zealous radiation, I forget the one thing I wanted so badly to take. What a shame because I would have had some even better pictures. It was overall too hazy because of the glare from the sun to anything that nice. I think I've learned my lesson finally.

With that being said it was still a nice hike. The sign said it took 1 hour and 50 minutes to reach the top. This time they really weren't exaggerating. There is a rather steep initial path that switch backs for who knows how long. I love the nature of a mountain hike because your work ultimately pays off once you reach the top. I was sweating enough to be solid proof of this. Once above the major tree line there are well distinguished paths through the low lying bamboo grass. I love how it covers the tops like a blanket. From far away it looks like a lawn but the leaves do well to create this illusion.

The upper reaches of the trail have some small ladders and it is necessary to cross a saddle back of sorts. It's so great being up in the hills. At the top of the mountain I sat for awhile and eventually another group of hikers arrived. They sat down and proceeded to unfold sushi rolls, tea, oranges, and many delicious things. This did not bode well for me as I had meagerly dined on a piece of bread with BBQ sauce before leaving for the hike. But out of nowhere one of the hikers came over and handed me a big hand-made sushi roll. He was like take this we have so much. I hate receiving things because I feel so utterly disgustingly guilty. I took this as a slight invitation though to creep closer and strike up some conversation, which I'm prone to do with random strangers on mountain peaks. Well they were actually a group of Koreans which is important because of how we had to communicate. I was trying to leave out that they were a specific group of people because it's like one of my education teachers mentioned, "When I would talk to my friends I would tell them I knew a good masseuse. One of the nicest Mormon men I know. But why for any reason did I always have to say Mormon man and not just a nice man?" Listen to yourself sometime you probably do it all the time.

The oldest man has lived in Japan for over 10 years and works for a chemical company. His wife and two kids live on the northern side of Shikoku. Their other friends also are working in the same company I believe. They ended up giving me a bottle of tea, coffee, some apple, and an orange. He mentioned that people out in the mountains were generally nice. He also said it was Korean culture to treat others as friends. Now if only Japan, Korea, and China could get along. I don't know how long we spent talking but it was a welcomed conversation. I mostly talked to the man because his Japanese is fluent. I'm not sure about the others so much. They didn't seem like they really knew enough to talk to me. I didn't even bother with English. So after the unexpected lunch we parted ways and I headed on down ahead of them. I received his business card so I suppose I could email him sometime and invite myself over. I'm sure... well... it's a little pretentious to assume they would even want me over. I was thankful for the opportune meeting we had though.

I stopped for dinner at a little outpost along the main road back to my house. Their specialty is kiji ramen. Kiji is a type of Japanese pheasant. The ramen is served with two minced balls of kiji meat and other assorted things. It was pretty good but I don't know if it was worth the price. The other ramen shop south of my place seems to be better value and more tasty. Who cares though. Some people could say I've been living like a miser up in this valley so it's okay to loosen my wallet right?

Pictures will show up soon... I hope.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tweaking the Look

I'll probably continue to make some changes to the look of the blog which should make it more visually appealing as well as easier on the eyes. There was just too much white for me to feel comfortable. I don't really know what I'm doing with the html but I just play with it till something comes out correctly.

Anyway I hope you find it more accessible and I'll try to keep it as simple as possible. I'm a fan of minimal styles so I can't really add much else.

I've been staying up late these nights. For some reason I don't feel so tired and just keep reading or studying things. I don't feel so tired during the day though. I only have a harder time getting out of bed in the morning. So far I haven't made it to school late which is good. My biggest fear is falling back back to sleep and waking up at like 8:30, ten minutes after school has started. I won't let that happen.

Leave me some comments whenever you get the chance. I love reading them even if I don't respond.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Oh It's Halloween

But do I care? No. It rained all day and the weather was abysmal. Good thing that I spent the day hanging out in a limestone cave with Eriko. Eriko came to Kochi for a business trip on Monday so she had time to hang out today. We planned to meet up at 2pm so I had to navigate to the hotel.

Before that, however, I had an interesting set of adventures driving into Kochi City. I can't even begin to explain how ridiculous the central road through Kochi is. There is and old train/trolley system in the middle and then there are two or three lanes on either side of this. Sometimes they shrink down to one or one and half lanes. It is nonsense. It didn't help that it was raining and I haven't driven in the city by myself yet. Basically every thing I did I was afraid that I was breaking a traffic law. I'm sure that I broke some laws today. I notice that Japanese drivers are always doing ludicrous things though. I wonder if people get tickets for things much else than speeding. I was going to stop at the Aeon mall to look for some things for my house but by the time I had reached the middle of the city I just had to pull into a parking lot and sit for awhile. My mind felt stressed out and I couldn't go any farther. I made sure that I knew how to get to the hotel. I went into a shopping center that was next to the parking lot. I realized that I have been really out of touch with civilization because the store kind of overwhelmed me. I forgot what a Japanese shopping center was like.

I settled down and managed to find Eriko at her hotel like we planned. It was hard to speak Japanese and drive my car through the city. It wasn't until we arrived at the cave did I feel relaxed enough to think straight. I probably sounded like a maniac today because I was. I felt like someone dumped speed straight into my brain cavity. The cave was splendid. The temperature felt nice and the 1km walking path went past some nice rock formations. I'll put these pictures up later as I continue to get more back logged. The pictures are hit or miss because of it being dark. It's really time I invest in a proper tripod that I will take everywhere.

I'll finish the rest of this day later. But I have a task for you. Is this chicken alive or dead?

What a cock

Friday, October 29, 2010

Here and There

We had a field trip today at school. I thought it was going to rain and was kind of hoping it would but the weather cleared up. It ended up being fun aside from the bus ride back where I was prodded and poked by extremely immature middle school students. I'll get to that sometime this weekend though.

Yesterday I mentioned that I did ikebana and here I am actually getting back to post the picture. The nurse/health teacher at the middle school printed out two photos and even laminated them for me. Japanese people always know how to be so nice. I wonder if they feel obligated most of the time though. I'm still not sure what other responsibilities the nurse/health teachers have other than caring for sick students. They have one at each of the schools I visit. But anyway here is the splendid piece of Japanese art I crafted. Pretty nice right? That was the lady who came to show us the mystical wonders of ikebana and complimented me ever so wonderfully. When you put an arrangement together it feels like you better understand the simple yet extravagant beauty inherent in nature. How did people get in the business of putting together, typically, such contrived flower arrangements and bouquets?

Konotani Ikebana

The other week I taught at a kindergarten down in Ino. They sometimes schedule these random events for me which I like quite a bit. They tell me to teach a subject and I show up to make the kids happy and have fun. I taught two classes about animals and the sounds they make. It would have been better if they hadn't lumped all the kids into two classes. The first class was 36 students with the second rounding out at 49 students. I think I better understand how a PE teacher feels. There were a lot of teachers in the room though and a handful of girls observing from the local college. I really just wanted to show a picture of some of the kids. I love when they smile.

So Cute You Want to Die

Tonight I bought meat for the first time in what seems like 3 or 4 weeks. I caved. I don't regret my purchase however. You see my refrigerator is practically empty and I didn't want to spend money on vegetables if I go into town this weekend. I settled on making pork bowl with rice. One could call this gyudon but that is beef. I'm not sure what you call the pork version because I've only ever heard people say gyudon. Thing is that you can go to a restaurant and get a pork version. I made this back in August I think but haven't tried it again because I didn't have mirin which is a type of cooking sake/wine or something. It's such an easy dish to make. Dump soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and dashi into a pot. Cut some thin slices of onion and simmer. Then drop thin cuts of beef/pork into the sauce and cook for a few minutes. You extract the beef and onions and serve on top of rice. It's always tasty to spread some of the liquid over the rice so it has more flavor. This definitely hit the spot tonight. I'll consider making an exception on my meat fast each week for this.

Nantoka Don

Before I head off into the night, I'll leave you with this.

Sweet Shirt

What a sweet shirt.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ikebana You Say?

Thursdays are one of my favorite days of the week. The students at the other school I go to are great fun. They actually act normal and not like puberty stricken neanderthals. A few of the girls are a little boy crazy but they are good kids. The guys generally maintain a pretty calm and laid back demeanor. The feeling is almost therapeutic.

I did some Halloween themed type activities today. I know plenty about Halloween except I never did trick or treating. I suppose we just didn't and that was that. Maybe it was too pagan? Well maybe we shouldn't celebrate Christmas either because it was a pagan festival adopted by the Catholic church and then changed for the purpose of converting heathens. It is kind of like all the people with pitchforks and torches who want to burn every Harry Potter book. The irony is that they probably own every single Disney movie and failed to realize Aladdin, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and whatever else you can pick out are filled with all kinds of sorcery, magic, and devilry. With that being said I really don't think I missed much with Halloween. I had the students mention everything related to Halloween and then we sang an easy song. They probably thought the song was terrible. Then we did Halloween pictionary with boys versus girls. That always seems to go over well with the students. The best part was the candy I brought. Their eyes lit up like slot machines when they looked in the bag and saw candy they had no knowledge of. It was pleasant to watch them dig through the sack and pick out something intriguing and unknown.

After I lunch I have been following the students over to the gym to play with them and hang out. Because I only come once per week I like to talk to them as much as possible. The second year girls are pretty silly and fun to talk to. They actually are the ones who told me to "come" with them. They have some crushes on the third year boys. The other week one of the second year boys in class told everyone that one of the girls wanted to marry one of the third year boys. The best part is that the English teacher, without hesitation, wrote this statement on the board. Boy was that girl red like a cherry lollipop.

There are a lot of antecedents that seem trivial to someone just reading so I'll omit those for now. However, I was asked to join the first year students to do ikebana today. Ikebana is Japanese flower arranging. They were practicing making arrangements for the culture festival that is coming up. A lady came in and did an arrangement while we watched and then made our own. We didn't make any complicated or groundbreaking flower arrangements but what we did make was beautiful it its own way. The two students and I had to take our design up to the front for a final evaluation and tweaking. I received some very nice comments from the teacher. She said that my design was especially nice because she could understand my feeling and nature through what I had made. She she said that my design let her know I was a kind and thoughtful person. The teacher didn't say anything like this to the other students. Maybe it is the landscaping blood running through my ruddy veins that contributed to my success.

Just maybe... just maybe...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Read 6

You can skip this first paragraph if you don't care about taking pictures. I noticed that when I would view my pictures with the Windows Picture viewer that I would have to rotate every picture that I took long wise. Then moving on to the next photo it would always save. I couldn't really figure out what it was saving each time I did this so I decided to look it up. Low and behold that when Windows rotates a picture it changes the image properties and has to reprocess the image. This results in a degraded quality photo. Maybe if you don't care that much you would never notice but I could tell something seemed a bit off on some pictures. From now on I have a program that will rotate any images without changing the properties or image quality. I'm glad I realized this now and not later on. It is for this reason that I still haven't put those valley pictures up. I had to go back through and correct my mistakes.

If you chose to skip the first paragraph here you go. Today had its share of interesting tidbits. I spent the morning sitting around pondering what I was going to do for my lessons on Thursday. I even managed to get a few things done. Usually my mind is in a billion different places during the day. I have so many random things on my mind. Take the following for example.

You know how everyone thinks by common sense that cold weather makes the body fall gravely ill? I can tell you for a fact this is not true. Argue with me all you want but YOU probably didn't take the time to actually look it up or research it. I'm sure if you ask most doctors they would say the same thing except for Japanese doctors at least. I'm not surprised that Japanese people believe this myth because the doctors here recommend gargling to prevent colds. All I know is that for my deficiency of gargling, in the past, others got sick more often. I don't even try to argue with people though because this myth (cold weather makes you sick) has been perpetuated through all societies for who knows how long. It is most uncommon to meet someone who thinks opposite of this such as myself. I would like to see how this belief changes or is the same depending on where in the world a person is. Interesting or not, I don't know. It never hurts to have many options in life right?

The second year students were pretty interesting today. Actually, they are usually like that. Sometimes to the point of being frustrated and irritated by their behavior. During cleaning time the group who is on the first floor rotation for the week was being lazy. They ended up trying to make me sweep the floor with damp rags. I obliged one of the students and did the hall way while they stood around. One of the boys in this group of students can be a little brat. I'm usually trying to diffuse his comments whether in Japanese or English. At the end of cleaning time the principal came over to ask us if we had cleaned everything well. I could see on all their faces that they knew they had been sticks in the mud. That is probably why one of the girls was laughing.

Carrying on from cleaning time we had English class with the second year students. Before we jumped into the amazingness and fun that is English the students wanted to ask me some questions. The teacher asked if this would be alright and I said sure. It was a little suspicious though. The teacher wrote the number six on the blackboard in a slow decrepit manner. It's as if you could see the shame dripping off the back of her body. Next, the students asked me to say the number six. Before it was even drawn I knew what they had up their sleeves. To buy myself some time I told them it was 'roku' in Japanese which is the number six. After I said that I laughed at the whole class and they were like NOOOOOOOOO. I hesitated for a few brief moments wondering what the response would be after I said six out loud. So to the best of my ability I tried to enunciate the number six as best as possible. The ensuing result was a flutter of laughter and snickering because if you didn't know, saying six sounds like the Japanese pronunciation for sex. We probably should have stopped before even doing this but for some reason my teacher let it continue. All I can say is that the hormones in the second year students and really all the students could take a healthy dose of elephant tranquilizer.

At the end of the class the students wanted me to write kanji. This was basically an opportunity for me to show off and gain popularity points with the students. I can say I did well because I heard many 'sugois' and 'ehhhhhhhhs'.

In the supplemental English period for the third year students one girl and a boy kept calling each other 'eroi' which loosely means something like erotic or sexual. Maybe not so literal. At one point they asked if I knew what some plant or something was. The girl tried to draw it but it didn't become any clearer what it was. My teacher proceeded to draw an example but much to everyone's surprise it turned into a great representation of a phallus. Talk about bad timing. The students were shocked and couldn't stop laughing. Granted there were only about six or seven in the classroom it was hilarious. My teacher quickly erased it trying to hide the embarrassment sweating off her brow. For the life of me, though, I can't figure out why that one girl then proceeded to draw a condom on the blackboard. That is okay. I don't want to know.

ps. I had to come back and update this because as I was studying I came across a sentence that said when you come in from the cold during winter you should gargle to prevent colds. Talk about timing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Overcast Days Straight to the Core

Things have been a tad slow at my outpost. It seems like we haven't had a shred of nice weather for more than a week now. At least it has been rainy the past two days instead of just being cloudy. I will always take rainy days over cloudy days. Rain is refreshing and peaceful in many ways. It feels like a friend has come to visit and is tapping ever so softly on my door wanting to talk. This was the perfect opportunity to study for several hours. The time blurs by when I'm at home. It is actually hard for me to find myself too bored. Between studying Japanese and learning guitar. I have heaps to do.

It's quite rewarding to make progress with the guitar. Over a month ago I felt pretty dismal and frustrated with my progress. I'm over it. I can tell I'm improving and figuring things out as I do along. I have some small goals I'm working towards and I'll probably have a couple songs I can play. Playing is completely figurative with guitar because I have a hard time doing anything other than down strums while singing. It is interesting how hard it is to get your mind to convince your mouth to say words and change chords at the same time. Well I'll get there eventually.

On Saturday I went out to Yasui Valley or maybe it is ravine. I didn't bother to look up the pronunciation for the last part of the kanji. It does have the kanji for valley in it but there is an extra which probably means it has a different translation than just valley. Anyway, as I said it was cloudy and overcast. I kind of don't like going out in such weather because I know I'm not going to capture as many good pictures. Especially if you shoot towards the sky. Trees get hazy and the whole scene looks blown out. The valley is actually a pretty neat place. I like the valleys that are filled with large boulders and rocks. There are some rather big ones too. The valley has a few waterfalls off some side trails. The best part will probably be in a few weeks when it gets colder. The valley walls will be filled with fall foliage and colors. I'm sure it gets busier around that time as Japanese people are enamored with leaf viewing season. Maybe it won't be so bad here because its rural but in Kyoto there were hordes of people shuffling around trying to get great pictures with their camera phones, at night.

I hiked up a random path without much discretion. I'll be back so I figured it didn't matter much where I went. I almost didn't even get out and hike but 300 meters is not far enough to really be lazy. It was a short hike up to the falls but I was detoured by what I thought was a path to a waterfall. I should have known better. Whenever hiking in such a place that is visited often, Japanese people make sure the path is well marked and delineated. Usually this is to the point of absurdity. So upon reaching the end of my detour I realized I should have been smarter than to think what looked like a path was not a path. It hasn't rained much lately so the falls were a bit dry. After a heavy rain they would be very beautiful. That isn't to say it was disappointing though. I will definitely be back to check it out. But that is a very tricky game to play because when it rains one place I don't have the slightest clue if another area got rain.

I was actually more interested in a smaller fall that was along the way up to the main falls. That is the picture that is posted below. It felt more memorable than the two others. It has a nice pool at the bottom that drains out through a lower crack in the rock. Because of this it looks like a little bath tub. I wouldn't mind trying to climb up the little valley to get there and swim next summer. Just something to consider but there are plenty of waterfalls to go swimming in.

The rest of the pictures, which aren't many, are still being processed. I will let you know when those are up. There are a handful that are worthwhile. There actually was this odd man made water garden feature that was interesting. I'm sure if it was full and running would be nice. You can see a picture of that soon.

As for other things. My job is my job. I had a good day at an elementary school and then I came back to the middle school. Unfortunately, maybe good, for me all the English classes were in the morning while I was gone so I spent the rest of the day studying Japanese and minding my own business. I really don't mind having several hours to do whatever. I probably should have planned for Thursday lessons at the other middle school but I'll work on that tomorrow. Of course that is what I always say and then I'm still finishing things up the morning before I leave. At least I'm not like the English teacher at my main middle school who shows up on a Monday morning when we always have a school meeting with the students, that can last till class starts. I'm pretty sure she was trying to get ready for her first class with 3 minutes to spare. I'm glad I had to go to the elementary school and wasn't around to watch the kids painfully do more worksheets. But what can you really do when you have 16 cats to take care of every day? Nothing, just like all the hair that gets on your clothes.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I'll get back into the swing of things soon. In the mean time enjoy this photo.

Natural Whirpool

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

漢字問題 - Kanji Problem

I've been devouring kanji like nobodies business. As I mentioned a few posts back my reading comprehension is improving quite a bit as the days roll by. For the most part I've been pleased with my progress and have retained a lot. I was poking around the internet on some blogs and came across an article about forgetting kanji. He basically went on to describe how many Japanese people are terrible at writing kanji because they use so many electronic mediums where you can type the 64 character alphabet in, press a button, and presto you get the kanji without any work. For this same reason, as I spend most of my time typing Japanese instead of writing by hand, I have thought my study style to be adequate for my goals. I figured if I spend more time just learning how to read kanji instead of write I can always go back and learn to write it when I have time. Plus, I can learn a lot more if I'm not practicing writing I won't really use. I felt really good reading the article as it essentially supported all my reasons but as I read the comments on the post I couldn't help but feel a bit distraught.

Is it just a short cut to not learn the writing system right now? Can I really say to someone that I know Japanese if I can hardly write all the characters? I don't like to think I'm devoting so much time to learning this language to leave out an essential portion. If I'm planning to learn Chinese why not learn how to write over half of the characters I will eventually need to write for Chinese? I shouldn't just put it off until I can read Japanese well.

So today I have decided to start a separate study of writing all the kanji vocabulary I have learned to date. This will probably slow down my pace learning new kanji but it's for the best. I don't want to neglect such an integral part of the language. Plus, when I really think about it I like writing kanji and haven't done it for a long time. I think I have some 3,000 words to go back through and learn to write. I probably can already write a hefty chunk of those but I will have to see one by one. After I catch back up I will be better prepared for when I start to tackle some Chinese.

Now that you have read things of no interest to you, what are you going to do? Just sit here and think about me sitting over my table studying? No, go do something with your precious life while you can. As for me I have committed myself to this and won't stop.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Universe

Today really didn't make much sense.

For starters it was Sunday and I had to go to school. That felt so weird. I'm still not even sure what the purpose of the day was. After lunch people came and watched the three different grades. It was a mixture of teachers from different schools in the Ino area and I think some parents. The science, Japanese, and math teachers had to teach lessons while people infiltrated the classrooms left and right. Talk about people breathing down your neck in the midst of a lesson. I wonder if the teachers were nervous. Yet, I doubt the people watching actually cared that much.

After this part of the day the people broke off into two different groups. I went with one to the library where the social studies teacher proceeded to blaze through a power point about teaching philosophy or something to the random lot of educators at the school today. People looked like they were riveted. A lady followed up with some extenuating jargon that made no sense either. I'm sure as she talked dry plaster chunks were falling out of her mouth. I felt pretty sleepy as it was and my mind was already shutting down from Japanese shock.

I should have mentioned that we had to bring our lunches today. Well, actually, you can come to school and order a bento (lunch) that magically comes from an establishment I'm not aware of but I don't give in so easily. The 550 yen leaves me feeling sour so I just skip that and bring my own. I totally forgot until a few minutes before I left this morning so I had to make something very quickly. My best friend in any food emergency is cabbage and carrots. Easily chopped and prepared. To make things even better I picked up some avocados last week for about 100 yen a piece and have been using these with my meals. I took half the avocado and then sliced it into strips to place on top of my salad. Avocado adds a superb smooth texture with a hint of oil. Not to mention the taste is equally nice. I think I'll try to eat more avocados and experiment with them in my cooking. I think avocado can be paired with an array of foods. For example...

Avocado Eggs

Back to the day now. After the boring presentations everyone moved to the gymnasium building across the main grounds of the middle school. From here things went from a confusing day to down right vexing and perplexing. There was a speaker from the Japanese space and aeronautical organization. Now if you want to figure out how classroom observations, random education presentations, and then a lecture from some dude who deals with the cosmos fits together be my guest but you won't ever figure it out. We learned all kinds of mesmerizing facts like how we can pay 200,000 dollars to ride a special space craft into subspace and experience zero gravity for 4 minutes until plummeting back to earth. We also learned about the unfathomable depth of space which I was pondering last weekend as I tried to fall asleep in my car. This lecture must have been fate then. Honestly, I stopped listening to the lecture after the first video he showed because my brain had shut down from the previous power point I watched. At about 1 hour and 15 minutes into the lecture we had hit about slide 50 and the principal gave him a note letting him know he needed to finish up. I think what makes the day even more incoherent is that he didn't even make it to the part of his presentation that was a message for the students, parents, and visitors. So all that space and cosmos nonsense he laborious conveyed to us was almost all in vain. He quickly flashed through some slides and then wrapped up his thoughts. A few minutes later as someone was saying thank you he forwarded his power point to slide, get this, 105 and said, "I totally super prepared for this presentation. Wow!" He pulled up the "final message" or point of the entire lecture but didn't even talk about it. We were supposed to do that ourselves. If that wasn't enough to top off my super exciting day, they had a short Q&A session. The first question was, "Do you think there are aliens?" Beside the fact we learned about potential space colonies on the moon and mars and concrete tangible information, this question missed the point of the lecture entirely. The presenter chuckled a little as if to deaden the reality of the question being asked. As with most of my days, upon reflection things are much more interesting than they appeared at first glance. This day was just odd and it ends that way except for the following.

Vegetable Pumpkin Curry

I got a Japanese pumpkin from the tea lady at school because she brought in extras from her garden. So instead of using potatoes in my curry I substituted the kabocha which when cooked is sweet and delicious. I simmered the pumpkin in mirin and soy sauce and then fried it with carrots and onion. Then I added water, red wine, and mirin to let the veggies boil and get softer. I also threw in some sliced red chili peppers for extra spicy flavor. The end result was a very nice curry with flavorful pumpkin. I have plenty for lunch tomorrow. I didn't take a picture of the end product because things get hidden in the thickness of the curry. I froze the extra pumpkin chunks and will use them later on. Life really isn't so bad.

Thank goodness I continue my weekend tomorrow with a day off. But that earth oven that I want to build is driving me crazy. I even had a dream about it because I've thought about it so much. If you don't know about my earth oven aspirations I'll explain soon.

It's really a shame we didn't see the other half of that guy's presentation today. It was actually kind of interesting. Yet, sleepiness and foreign language processing don't win wars.

Friday, October 15, 2010


So an early morning post to compliment my thoughts from last night. Be sure to read yesterday about my hiking trip and look at the pictures if you haven't.

Ayako Imoto is a Japanese TV personality or talent as they also say over here. I like how Jayson Young the JET in the next town over described Japanese TV as being a soupy shallow mess or something like that. It is so true. Japanese television shows usually consist of large groups of people sitting in a studio watching other smaller groups or individuals do ridiculous tasks, eat food, or travel places. Ayako gets her notoriety more from her dashing good looks than anything else. Have a look below.

She is hideous with her painted on eyebrows (thank goodness they aren't real) and nasty messed up teeth. To compliment her appearance she wears a young girl's school uniform. I was suckered into watching some of her programming recently as it is interesting albeit in a stupid way most of the time. It isn't uncommon to see such people on Japanese television though. One of her more recent antics was paddling a wash tub from an island off the Japanese coast to the mainland. I watched but spent most of the time thinking how much it cost just to provide that masseur and not to mention the entire support crew on a nearby boat.

Japanese TV is interesting but it's more interesting the careers people make for themselves out of weird characters. On a slightly related note, there was a show trying to figure out what meat was used most often when people make curry. Yeah... an entire segment devoted to the option of beef or pork curry. Oh Japan you are an odd place.

Thursday, October 14, 2010



It is almost the weekend again and I'm now sitting down to write about last weekend. Where does my time go? For some reason I cant remember half the weekend though. It must have been so trivial that my brain pruned those packets of information while I was sleeping. I don't have to write about them then, so good. Monday was another holiday so things fell perfectly into place.

The weather was acting like a spoiled child who cries on Friday and Saturday so it was impossible to go anywhere. It was pretty nice though to spend time around home. On Sunday it was really nice out but I didn't know it was going to be like that according to the forecast. I spent most of the day planning an attack on a mountain I had my eyes set on.

On Sunday at about 4pm I left my place and set out to fill up my car with gas. I should have done it earlier because the local gas station was closed and so was the one a few kilometers down the road. I had to drive about 8 or 9km out of my way just to acquire some gas. If I hadn't found gas I would have gone back home, screamed into a pillow, and then eaten some cookies. I got a later start than I wanted to because I intended to get to the mountain before it got dark so I could check out where the trail was. Well not only was it later than I planned but the drive took forever. Route 40 is a windy road with blind curves and numerous switchbacks. By the time I was in the vicinity of the mountain it was starting to turn into a horror movie scene. No blood or guts but just thick fog and clouds covering the road. When I finally made it to the parking lot and I could hardly tell where to park because it was pretty dark and fog infested. Much to my surprise there were a couple other cars hanging out. If you haven't figured out by now I was planning to sleep in my car so I could climb the mountain and see the sun rise. I guess only the true mountain warriors spend the night and hike before sun rise. I had to remind myself several times that I was in my car, in Japan, up on a mountain, spending the night. It was a very eerie and quiet night to myself. Much of the time I laid with my eyes closed pondering how far the universe reaches while I waited for my body to enter sleep mode. I didn't sleep the best but it was sufficient. It's better than driving that route 40 in the morning while it's still dark.

At 4:30am on Monday I got up and prepared myself for the hike up to the top. Upon waking up I was greeted with a glorious starry sky. Perfectly clear. When I set out at 4:45 I stopped for awhile to gaze at the stars. When I get a tripod (sometime soon maybe?) I will take some long exposure pictures. But in all honesty you need to get out of wherever your light soaked pollution area is and see the wonder of stars. I was moving at a pretty fast pace up the trail with my trusty flashlight in hand and few minutes in and I realized that I should never drink blended milk and coffee drinks before physical exertion again. It's like the one time I ate yogurt before a football workout as a freshman in high school. I never did that again. I'm sure I could feel the yogurt curdling in my stomach. I actually ended up being just fine but for a few moments I wasn't sure if I would be doing an air prayer to the porcelain god or not.

Before I knew it I had reached what I thought was the top. There were a couple other of people, men, armed with cameras and tripods as if they were going to wage a war with the landscape on photographic terms. I stayed there for about a half hour or more waiting for the sun to rise. I got a handful of shots as the sky was bleeding into morning.


But as I said I thought it was the top of the mountain. Well it is the top of the smaller peak. I didn't realize this till the sun was almost up and in order to compensate I ran up the rest of the trail to capture some shots at the highest point. I was a bit late but still took pictures as the sun came up. It was wonderful regardless of the pictures I took. I could see the red hues on the Pacific Ocean and the duller blues on the Inland Sea of Japan. The black shadows of the mountains and thin clouds mixed with pockets of sun gave off a mystic feeling. The illumination of Mount Ishizuchi was equally splendid. It was invigorating to sit at the top and take in the morning sun. One of the more interesting and beautiful aspects of the mountain is the meadow like short bamboo growing all over the hillsides.


I took some time for a small breakfast of an apple and some dried meat and then headed back down to the lower peak.


By now the masses of casual day hikers were flocking the mountain trails like ants and sugar. I met some hikers from Himeji (city west of Kobe on the main island Honshu). As with most random Japanese people I meet in the middle of nowhere they always mention my Japanese is good. If you haven't remembered you can say thank you in Japanese and convince a Japanese person you are fluent. A bit sarcastic there but with a shred of truth. Before I said anything I was standing around taking pictures and was thinking what they might be thinking to see the random foreigner up on a mountain in Shikoku. You can fill in the blanks because my imagination just broke. The hikers moved on and I met another older man from the nearby prefecture Ehime. We talked about the scenery and nice mountains. I could understand almost everything he said which not only is good for comprehension but makes me feel not so useless with spoken Japanese. At one point he asked me about Natsume Soseki, who is a famous Japanese writer. I was a bit confused why he suddenly brought up the writer but Soseki taught at a school in the man's town so he was connecting to the two. Soseki is one of the authors all Japanese know much like a J.D. Salinger in America. But he is only famous for not doing interviews, right? Okay so two different people entirely but you get the point. The man also informed me that stars were beautiful around 2am. So he was randomly up at 2am? Better. He was out taking pictures of stars at 2am on another mountain and was continuing his hiking where I was at. Talk about a true mountain soldier. He is more amazing than I. Yet, it isn't a contest so it was good company.

I bid him farewell 10 minutes later and descended the mountain. I kind of forgot to tell you how tall the mountain is and all those technical elements. But I don't want to ruin the shroud of mountain man-ness I have been creating for myself lately. So while the mountain is 1,896 meters tall I don't know the vertical distance ascended. Lets just say it was easier than the first mountain a couple weeks back.


Alas I'm already damaging myself so just fend for yourselves please


Head over to my flickr page for the rest of the pictures.